The government will miss its target of having all eligible service users on personal budgets by April 2013, say council social care professionals. Just 26% of respondents to Community Care's annual personalisation survey expect their council to achieve full take-up of personal budgets by next year, down from 37% in 2011.
Ministers want to see all council-funded users of ongoing support on personal budgets – preferably as a direct payment – by next April. In practice the target has been applied to users of community – not residential services – just over half of whom were on personal budgets as of March 2012, according to the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services latest progress survey, published last month.
Many respondents to Community Care’s survey, sponsored by Unison and The College of Social Work, said their council needed to do more to improve access to personal budgets for groups whose take-up has historically been low:-
• 41% said support for people with dementia was insufficient;
• 37% said support for older people was insufficient, though 44% said it was sufficient;
• 32% wanted more support for people with mental health problems.
The findings follow concerns from Adass that the April 2013 target had led to an emphasis on councils boosting numbers on personal budgets rather than providing users, particularly older people, with genuine choice and control.
However, Adass president Sarah Pickup, claimed “the vast majority of eligible service users will be accessing support services via a personal budget in most councils by the target date”.
But one local authority social worker, who wished to remain anonymous, told Community Care that he and many colleagues felt personal budgets, as they were being implemented, were "not fit for purpose for most older people". “In my experience, many older people struggle to sufficiently understand their indicative and personal budgets. They don’t want to know, they just want a service as soon as possible," he said. "They see us at a time of distress, often near the end of their lives, and become more confused and anxious when we try to explain all the jargon.”
It would be better if councils did not rush to meet the April 2013 goal, said Owen Davies, policy and public affairs adviser at The College of Social Work, which co-sponsored the survey with Unison.
“The first priority should be to implement personal budgets properly and not to meet externally imposed timetables. Deadlines often have perverse effects and may undermine the quality of decision making,” he said. Helga Pile, national officer for social work at the Unison, criticised the imposition of the target. “It focused things on the target and getting numbers through,” she said. Are we focusing on the outcomes or ticking boxes?”